Walker hoping for bi-partisan support on major issues over next two years; GOP says unions aren't a target: Thanksgiving dinner cheaper than last year; more state briefs
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker says he believes his proposals can get support from both major parties in the next contentious in the last session.
Addressing about 300 business and community leaders in La Crosse Thursday, Walker told reporters he'll keep focusing on job creation. He predicted that minority Democrats will give at least some support to tax cuts, reforming state regulations and a newly reworked mining bill.
In the last session, Democrats joined the GOP in passing some job creation measures, but that was before the massive protests occurred over Walker's limits on public employee unions. After that, Democrats refused to cast a single vote on the union limits, the state budget and mining legislation in which Republicans promoted badly needed jobs in northern Wisconsin over environmental protections.
This time, the GOP acknowledges that the environment must be addressed. Walker mentioned several times during the La Crosse summit that the new mining package will include safeguards for "clean air, clean land and clean water."
He also hinted he might link state aid to public schools with how well students perform. Walker suggested he could have such a meaure included in the budget he'll submit to the Legislature in February.
He dropped some hints of what he might include in the massive two-year spending package, but he did not go any into detail. Walker also said he might address areas in which employers need more skilled workers.
Unlike two years ago, Walker and the Legislature will not have a multi-billion-dollar deficit to deal with. The latest estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau say the current budget will end with a $261 million surplus next June 30.
Also Thursday, Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau was chosen again by his GOP colleagues as the Senate's majority leader. He held the post during the last session, but he lost it temporarily after Democrats took the majority in last June's recall elections. It didn't make much difference, though, as the two-year session was officially over by then.
Also, Mike Ellis of Neenah was returned to the post of Senate president which he held until the recall votes.
Legislative leaders say they won't try to curb private sector unions
MADISON -- Wisconsin's Republican legislative leaders say they will not try to eliminate private sector employee unions as some Democrats fear.
Voters put the GOP back in charge of both houses more than 18 months after those Republicans virtually eliminated collective bargaining privileges for most public employee unions in the state. The issue made the State Capitol even more politically polarized than it had been.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker previously said that private unions are a partner in creating jobs - and he'd be against going after them like he did with the public unions. This week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and possible GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos both said private union restrictions won't happen.
Wisconsin Republicans say they'll do what they can to keep the photo ID requirement for voting from being abolished.
It was passed last year, but two judges later struck it down as being unconstitutional. The state is now challenging those rulings. Vos says his party will wait to see what the courts do. And if they have to make it changes, Vos says they'll do so.
Republicans regained control of both houses of the Legislature in Tuesday's elections. And with Republican Scott Walker in the governor's office, Democrats again have no semblance of power.
South Milwaukee Senator Chris Larson said the GOP treated its Democratic colleagues like "pieces of furniture" in the last session.
Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald sounded a bit conciliatory when he said he hopes the next session brings "some resemblance of the way we used to function in the building" when the minority had at least some input.
Fitzgerald sees this week as a fresh start. Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach, who like Larson is running for the Senate's minority leader post, said he hopes Republicans realize, "They're not the only ones who live in Wisconsin."
Meanwhile, the GOP promises to push some of the issues it pursued last session - like mining incentives, tax cuts and expanding private school voucher programs.
Thanksgiving dinner price down slightly this year
Wisconsin grocery shoppers can be thankful even before they bring their Thanksgiving turkey home from the store.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation says the cost of a traditional holiday dinner is 2.6% less than a year ago thanks mainly to a drop in the price of the turkey. The Farm Bureau says it will cost just under $49 to feed 10 people on Thanksgiving. That's $1.29 less than last year.
The Wisconsin dinner will cost about 60 cents less than the national average. The Farm Bureau's Casey Langan calls it a tremendous bargain. He says the complete dinner costs less than $5 per person - cheaper than the drive-through.
A 16-pound turkey will average about $22.72 - 48 cents less than in 2011. And Langan says last-minute shoppers will normally get even bigger discounts.
Sweet potatoes are also cheaper along with peas, rolls, carrots, celery, pie shells, and whipped cream. Cranberries will cost more along with stuffing, milk and pumpkin pie mix.
Langan says there's been a strong worldwide demand for U.S. turkeys, but the farmers who raise them still only get about 15% of the total share.
Get-out-the-vote campaign effective in Native American community
Indian leaders waged an aggressive campaign to get their members out to the polls on Tuesday, and their national group calls the effort a success.
It will be awhile before we learn how many Native Americans voted in Wisconsin and elsewhere, but the National Congress of American Indians said the tribal turnouts made a difference in Minnesota where a referendum was defeated on a photo ID requirement for voting.
The group also said it had a hand in the U.S. Senate races in North Dakota and Montana.
Congress officials say Native Americans in New Mexico and Montana were registered at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group going into Election Day.
Education leader says UW should be candid about job prospects
MADISON -- A national employment expert says the University of Wisconsin should start telling prospective students what their chances are for getting jobs in the fields they pursue and how much they can expect to be paid.
Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University told UW Regents Thursday that higher education is part of the market system and as students shop around for colleges, they should know in advance how each particular school can help them the most in achieving their career goals.
Carnevale said prospective students should be told whether others in their fields of study find related jobs soon after getting out of school so they can know whether attending a certain college would pay off or not. Carnevale said a growing number of jobs will need at least some college education, and women will almost have to attend college to have any hope of making a living wage.
He said that by 2018 over six of every 10 Wisconsin jobs will need at least a year of technical college training. In a national report on job prospects, Carnevale said Wisconsin will create 139,000 jobs by 2018 that need some type of post-secondary education while only 52,000 more jobs can go to high school grads or drop-outs.
Students won't necessarily need four-year degrees to get ahead. He said men with a year of technical training can make more money than a quarter of those with bachelor's degrees.
'Freedom from Religion' group says Green Bay Catholic Diocese should lose its tax-exempt status
Madison's Freedom-from-Religion-Foundation says the Green Bay Catholic Diocese should lose its tax-exempt status.
The group that advocates the separation of church and state complained to the Internal Revenue Service after Bishop David Ricken urged Catholics to vote this week against candidates who support gay marriage or abortion.
He expressed his concerns in a letter to about 345,000 Catholics in 16 northeast Wisconsin counties.
The IRS has not commented.
The Green Bay Diocese said Ricken wrote the letter, "out of his love and concern for the people."
Deer hunters -- watch out for protected elk, moose
MADISON -- Wisconsin's popular gun deer hunting season begins a week from tomorrow, and officials urge hunters to be extra careful about the targets they aim for.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang said elk and moose getting more common in the far north and both species are legally protected.
The elk population continues to grow, especially in Ashland, Bayfield, Price and Sawyer counties and moose have come into Wisconsin from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Minnesota.
Wallenfang said deer hunters should concentrate on identifying both their targets and what lies behind them.
Meanwhile, three southern Wisconsin men are due back in court on Tuesday after being convicted and fined thousands of dollars for illegally shining and shooting deer.
Joshua Beyer, 23, of Janesville, Chris Kummer, 22, of Milton, and Chris Taylor, 20, of Evansville pleaded no contest in Rock County to numerous counts of illegal deer shining.
Beyer was ordered to spend a year in jail and was fined a total of almost $11,000 on seven misdemeanor shining convictions. Kummer and Taylor were both fined around $3,000. Kummer was also given probation for three years on seven shining convictions while Taylor pleaded no contest to two counts. All three defendants also had their hunting privileges suspended or revoked.
The DNR said they were convicted for illegally shining and shooting at seven deer, but the numbers of animals were most likely a lot more.
The case began when a Rock County sheriff's officer saw people in two pickup trucks shining into a field last December. Authorities investigated for five months before charges were filed in May.
Stillwater couple get prison time for orchestrating $5 million cross-border fraud scheme
MINNEAPOLIS -- A couple will spend time in prison for orchestrating a $5 million mortgage fraud scheme in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Federal Judge David Doty of Minneapolis sentenced James Hoffman, 52, yesterday to 6 1/2 years behind bars plus $344,000 in restitution to his victims.
Hoffman's wife, Teresa, 53, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. The couple is from Stillwater.
They pleaded guilty in February. Prosecutors said James Hoffman conspired to defraud mortgage lenders from 2001 to 2009, and his wife joined the scheme five years after it began.
Officials said the Hoffmans employed fake buyers to purchase real estate in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the couple kept much of the proceeds from those loans.
House fire claims two children at Racine
A house fire in Racine that killed two children and seriously injured two others apparently started in the bathroom.
Fire Chief Steve Hansen said the exact cause of the blaze remains uncertain. He said the home's electricity was cut off last week. While the house had smoke detectors, the chief was not sure if they were working properly.
Dayja Scott, age 9, and her sister Dalijah, 8, were killed. Their two brothers - seven-year-old Michael Scott and five-year-old Luther - are at Milwaukee Children's Hospital. Their conditions have not been released.
An uncle says Luther is improving, while Michael "may have some issues." An adult male was also injured in the fire and was sent to a hospital for treatment.
Four firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion after removing the four children from a bedroom. Hansen said they returned to duty after they were released from a hospital.
Throughout the day Thursday, numerous bouquets were dropped off in front of the Scott home - along with rosaries, teddy bears and sympathy cards.